Accompanied by four travelling singers, Adelaide’s Gospo Collective, and a four-piece band led by musical director and drummer Joe Accaria, this is a gentle – maybe too restrained – journey through the gospel music of Marcia Hines’ youth, as well some of her best-known work.

For those whose gospel music exposure is limited to the likes of Aretha Franklin’s incendiary “Amazing Grace” recordings, this performance would have been a more reflective experience.

The tone is set from the beginning, with Hines singing that most famous hymn – “Amazing Grace” – a cappella, her muscular pop vocals pared back.

The feel of this new set from Hines, who is showcasing the gospel music of her youth for the first time at the age of 68, is perhaps reflective of the woman who inspired her to sing in Boston, before she made her now famous journey to Australia at the age of 16 after landing a role in the hit musical Hair (a season, she noted, that was performed in a quite different-looking Her Majesty’s).

Her singing roots can be traced to her godmother, Aunty Flo, who took her into the choir boxes of churches in her home town, and introduced her to beautiful voices and the rich tradition of American gospel music. Flo, Hines says, was a patient woman – willing to break the rules about having children sit with the choir, but also always willing to listen and answer patiently a young Marcia’s endless questions about the world around her.

Straight out of this world comes the hymn “How Great Thou Art”, given an almost ’80s tinged arrangement, and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, with a gentle country strut. The backing singers are, at this point, very distinctly in the background with what are tasteful and, again, restrained arrangements.

Marcia Hines performs The Gospel According to Marcia. Photo: Claudio Raschella

The gospel theme begins to stretch with Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross”, and one of Hines’ early hits, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, with choral backing, of course, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

Until now, it’s all been quite a polite version of this tradition, marked in popular culture – but perhaps not Hines’ real-life experience in Boston, I don’t want to presume – by the swaying, ecstatic, call-and-response between preacher and congregation.

In the preacher role, Hines is her gentle, peaceful self – often turning to the choir (with whom she rehearsed for the first time on the day of the concert after what sounded like a nightmarish flight from Sydney. “Don’t fly!” she exhorted).

A toe-tapping version of Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock” starts to take things to a new level of energy and joy. I’m not sure if amplification adjustments were made, but from my seat on the edge of the dress circle it certainly sounded that way, with Gospo’s vocals finally coming to the fore.

The band, I should note at this stage, is tight, with pianist Stu Hunter particularly notable with his bluesy piano solos and deft organ work.

For me, the highlights were a thoroughly joyful version of “Praise You” and a contemporary gospel hit, “Take Me to the King”, but the many Hines fans were clearly loving some of her early radio hits, “You” and “Fire and Rain”, given a gentle gospel wash.

The finale, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, was a bit of a downer, tempo-wise and stylistically, for me, but it clearly hit the spot with the standing audience, happily singing along.

Did I want a bit more ecstatic fervour in this gospel set? Yes. But this was Marcia’s gospel, not mine, and she is nothing but authentic.

The Gospel According to Marcia was a one-off concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre on June 17 as part of the 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which continues until June 25.

See all InReview’s coverage of the 2022 Cabaret Festival here.

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